Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Something Important To Shakespeare And Mr. Bean

I was thinking the other day, and I realized how important this thing we call timing is. Veteran comedians say that the secret to a successful joke is the timely delivery of the punchline. The wrong pacing of such a delivery could ruin a perfectly good joke and leave it a flop. In a sense, a good comedian is someone who knows how to use timing by making sure that his audience is ripe and ready to receive the punchline, before he lets go of it. If he does it properly, he will be rewarded with laughter and applause. If you've seen Rowan Atkinson, more popularly known as Mr. Bean, doing one of his stand-up comedy routines, or even one of his Mr. Bean slapstick episodes, you will see how much he understands this concept. The way he places his pauses before the impact of his joke comes, allows the audience to take in and recognize the joke, and helps to build up a heightened sense of anticipation. This tension created by his impeccable pacing is released into uncontrollable laughter upon his delivery of the punchline. This kind of skill results in him having a very successful career as a comedian. All of it, timing.

Timing isn't only important in comedy. The Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines timing as, "the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect." If you think about it, that covers almost everything people do in this world. To the champion boxer, fighting in the ring and looking for a knockout to secure his victory, a well-timed punch is all that he needs. To the acrobat waiting for his swinging partner's hands to get within reach of his, timing is the thin line dividing his rise to fame and a fall to his demise. To a percussionist of a world-famous orchestra, knowing how to time his movements decides whether or not he properly performs his important role of banging together his cymbals four times in a half-hour span.

The timing of the heart's beating too, as I am sure my soon-to-be-cardiologist friend would agree, is very important. A hard hit to the chest (yes, this is in reference to the news article a couple of years ago about a 12-year old kid being hit by a line drive to the chest off a metal bat), can short-circuit the heart if the sharp impact occurs at a precise moment between heartbeats. This disrupts the rhythm of the heartbeat and can cause coma or even death.

And how about love? Imagine a person breaks up with his girlfriend, and a week later meets another girl who is perfect in all ways. He simply cannot just go and start courting this other girl. He would still need time to get over his past love, because until then, his heart is still not his to give away. And even if he foolishly tries to court this other girl, chances are, once the new girl finds out he just had a break-up, she might start thinking that she is a "rebound girl," and that would probably ruin what could have been something beautiful. The new girl came at the wrong time and it's just bad timing. And saying for example that he does wait it out a bit, maybe a couple of months, just enough to pick up the pieces of his broken heart, bad timing would find the new girl already being courted by another guy, or maybe even already in another relationship. If only the girl came at a time when the guy's heart was ready, things might have been different. I know this is simply one "out there" example of how bad timing can affect the finding of love, but it is one example among many.

Timing is indeed very important, not just in comedy, or sports, or music or the literal or figurative beating of the heart, I even dare say that timing is crucial for a person to succeed in life.

The great bard, William Shakespeare, in his play Julius Caesar, writes about such timing. In Act 4, scene 3, Brutus tries to convince his co-conspirator Cassius to march their army forward and fight Marc Anthony and Octavian's forces at a place called Philippi. In his mind, the more they wait, the more Octavian will be able to increase the number of troops, and they will miss what could be their best chance at victory.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

-Julius Caesar, Act 4, scene 3, 218-224

To ride to success on the peak of life's wave - that is timing. Once it comes, it is folly to wait.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Simple Song About Clowns

I was still in high school when I first heard this song. I think it was about 8 years ago when our theater group's managing director, a really old but very wise man, told us about this song in one of our many sharing sessions and explained to us what it meant. From then on, it had become one of my favorites.
Before, whenever I listened to this song, I would pretend to understand exactly how the singer felt. Even though my younger self had never been hurt the way she had been, I would try to vicariously feel her pain and hear her words as she tried to soothe her hurting heart.
These days, I have no need to pretend.

This song was written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music. It is sung in the second act by the character Desiree after being rejected by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected 20 years earlier. Desiree, an aging actress, realizing that she now loves the man, and believing that the he is unhappy with his current marriage, and is in need of "rescuing," proposes to him that he leave his wife and be with her once and for all. Instead of a yes that, with all her heart, she expected, she was turned down.
"To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved..."

As to the title, back when the circus was a mainstream form of entertainment, whenever something in a stunt goes wrong, like an acrobat falling hundreds of feet to his death due to a misstep, the ringmaster would shout, "Send in the clowns!" Legions of clowns would then enter the big top and start playing their little slapstick jokes and their little magic tricks to distract the audience from what had just occurred, in an attempt to make them forget about the tragedy.

I would always pull this song out whenever I felt sad. I'd listen to it and somehow, it would help make me feel better, or at the very least, help make me forget. I'm pulling it out tonight.

Send in the Clowns

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

My favorite version of this song is the one sung by Glenn Close.
Here is a YouTube link if anyone wants to check it out: http://youtube.com/watch?v=nmDwlNHturU
Dame Judi Dench's version is also very good but she plays it with a bit more anger than I believe necessary. This song is more about about a mixed sense of self-pity and self-loathing to the point of it being almost funny. Here's her version. It gives a bit of context to the song by including some of the man's lines: http://youtube.com/watch?v=yE3dLzIYKs8&feature=related

Friday, July 25, 2008

Might Be Overkill

Sometimes, if not often, we find it hard to convey our feelings using our own words. It could be that the emotions are too abstract and vague or too intangible for our concrete verbal skills to grasp. It could also be that deep within ourselves, we know that no matter what sentence we construct, it would fall short of the meaning we wish to impart.
During those times, we content ourselves with letting other people speak for us, hoping that at a more eloquent time, we would no longer need their help. We look to the words they have uttered, whether it be in poetry or in prose and try to find our feelings being given life, somewhere within their expression. Tonight, I would like to borrow someone else's words for mine fail me.

Music has always been a big part of my life and I look in different places to find songs. I heard this one while watching an episode of Scrubs.

Overkill ( Colin Hay)

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
Perhaps it's just imagination

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away

Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation
It's time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation

At least there's pretty lights
And though there's little variation
It nullifies the night from overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Come back another day

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
It's just overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away

I really liked this song, not only because of its lyrics but also because of its melody. If you can find time, try listening to it. You might like it too.
Here's a YouTube link for quick reference: http://youtube.com/watch?v=RZ45xrtNnzk


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Good Dream Catcher

There have been times in my life when I felt afraid of falling asleep simply because I was scared of having a dream. Yes, not just nightmares, but dreams in general. Even the good ones. It seemed to me, during those times, that whatever dream I may have, be it good or bad, it will ultimately end up making me feel like staying in bed when I wake up in the morning.

If it was a bad dream, then I'd feel bad when I wake up simply because I went through a horrible event which at the time, I thought was real.
If it was a good dream, I'd be happy, until that point when I wake up and realize that it was all a dream. And then I'd start feeling bad because now I know I was just being led on and none of it was true.

During those times, I longed to have dreamless sleep. I even wondered if there was a dreamcatcher that did its job of... well... catching dreams. Yeah, catching dreams. All of them. I wanted a dreamcatcher, not just a nightmarecatcher. I know, I know... the dreamcatcher was originally a Native American symbol made out of threads of sinew woven around a circular frame made of willow and adorned with feathers, which when hung above the bed would help protect sleeping children from nightmares. Supposedly only good dreams could filter through and the nightmares would get snared by the web and would disappear as soon as the light of day arrives.

Still, I wanted one that could catch all kinds of dreams and live up to the literal meaning of its name.

Okay, forget the nightmares. I mean, what is the purpose of having a good dream if it is as ephemeral as the sand that we wipe away from our eyes when we wake up in the morning? Does it do us any good besides the fact that it makes us feel how wonderful it is to have something which, when we wake up, we realize we never really had?

Sometimes, I think it's better to have bad dreams. At least when you wake up, you can say, "Whew, I'm glad that's over."

Not, "Oh... it wasn't real after all..."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


*ahem* ... Mic test... Testing... 1... 2... 3...